In this article you will find a brief history about the Dogu Express, tips and information on how to get the tickets and our experience.
Brief HISTORY of the Dogu Express
The eastern express (Doğu Ekspresi in Turkish) is nowadays the most popular overnight train in Turkey running from Ankara to Kars over 1310km (814mi). The construction of the line started in 1924 and, 15 years later, reached Erzurum where, at that time, passengers had to transfer to a broad gauge train in order to get to Kars, the last Turkish city before the Soviet Union. However, in 1962 the broad gauge line was made standard and passengers could travel from Istanbul to Kars without changing train. Due to the new high speed line between Istanbul and Ankara, nowadays the Dogu express departs from the capital and has become more and more popular over the last few years thanks to, locals say, Instagram!
Important TIPS if you want to travel with the Dogu Express
The first and main problem of the Dogu Express is getting the tickets, it’s not easy (we found people who claimed that they had tried for years to get the tickets without success) but with a bit of determination and luck you may be able to get them.
Here three things you need to take into consideration when you want to buy the tickets:
- Train tickets for the Dogu Express are released just one month in advance and most of them are bought by travel agencies. Therefore, you may find that the train is fully booked right after the release of the tickets.
- Men and women cannot stay in the same cabin unless they are relatives. Since you cannot demonstrate it when you book it online, you cannot buy the tickets for two people of opposite gender in the same cabin (unless you opt for the touristic Dogu express, in that case there is no problem). However, they don’t really care, we laid about the gender and nobody checked!
- We heard that solo travellers who want to buy tickets for the touristic Dogu Express must buy the entire cabin paying way more than the normal price.
How to BUY the TICKETS for the Dogu Express
Which types of Dogu express are there? What’s the difference?
There are two Dogu express, one local that takes 24hrs from Ankara to Kars and one touristic that takes few hours more but it stops in some cities and gives you the opportunity to explore them. If you go for the local one, you can either get the seats (it should be easy to find tickets but you don’t really want to stay 24hr on a seat) or the couchettes (we got those ones and are the ones hard to find). If you go for the touristic one there are just couchettes (it should be easy/less difficult to find tickets for those ones). Couchette cabins in the local train have 4 beds while in the touristic one just two and both have air conditioning and beddings provided. The main difference between the two is the price (the touristic one cost 5 times more than the local one), the privacy, the presence of the fridge as well as the wee sink that, obviously, you don’t have in the local train.
Where can I buy the tickets?
You can either buy tickets through a travel agency (we have no recommendation about it) or online. If you opt for the online booking, you can either buy tickets on the TCDD website or download the app and buy them from there. Both are more or less in English and accept card payments. However, we personally suggest you the app both because it was successful for us and because for some weird reasons there were more tickets available on the app rather than on the website. If you really want to get the “authentic” Dogu Express from Ankara to Kars in a couchette we strongly suggest to start checking tickets availability at least 40 days in advance and possibly check the website/app 3 times a day in different times.
You really need to put great effort to buy the tickets for the local Dogu Express but, if you manage to get them, you won’t regret it. Good luck!
A bit of OUR EXPERIENCE on the Dogu Express…
Our Dogu express journey started at Ankara train station, where we got checked by the police in civil uniform, who took pictures of us and our documents and, using WhatsApp (privacy is clearly an optional in Turkey), they sent them to the police department for, they said, face recognition…why they didn’t just look at the picture of the document is a mystery to us. We eventually managed to not get arrested and we got onto the train, that departed from Ankara super punctual at 6pm! We expected the train to be packed but, surprisingly enough, we were alone so after a couple of sandwiches, 300 pictures and few times in loop Izmir marçi song we went to bed. At 1:30am, we heard somebody knocking on the door, our roommates Murat and Raif became part of our experience. Due to the smell of alcohol, the first impression wasn’t great but we were wrong, they would become our best friends later on. The day after we went for breakfast to the restaurant wagon and we started chatting with pretty much every member of the staff on the train and the tickets man, who looked like Erdogan, told us to refer him any problem with our roommates…he probably smelled the alcohol breath as well the night before. When we came back, our friends were still sleeping so we decided just to enjoy the view that changed dramatically every few hours, from deserts to lakes passing next to rivers or mountains…just stunning! At roughly 1:30pm Murat and Raif became part of the crew and, after a couple of “hangover paracetamol”, they were able to communicate with us (thank you google translate). We found out that they were carpenters from Capadocia who were going to Ardahan (a tiny village where we ended up later on) to work for 10 days. We chatted a lot with them about pretty much everything, we played cards (Giulia even won without knowing how to score points), we listened to music and, more importantly, we drunk a lot of coffees offered by them.
In the meanwhile, the landscape outside had changed already: we had passed from deserts to pine forests, Kars was getting closer. After exchanging our social media contacts, having drunk another couple of coffees, having seen the landscape changing again (this time it was mostly fields and cattle) we arrived at Kars at 6:30pm with just 30 minutes of delays. Well, we are getting much better, we thought! At Kars, our Couchsurfing host was waiting for us, another adventure would come…